IN the aftermath of the Shafia trial here in Canada and more recently the murder of Shaima Alawadi in San Diego, the image of Muslim women in the media is too often one that is associated with narratives of suppression, repression and violence.
Enter Love, InshAllah, which admirably aims to lambaste these one-dimensional stereotypes in one fell swoop.
Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women is a collection of short, real-life accounts of the love stories of 24 different American Muslim women. Edited by San Francisco-based writers Ayesha Mattu and Nura Maznavi, the book gives several Muslim women writers the space to tell their own stories, on subjects that are rarely given much public coverage in Muslim communities: love, romance and, yes (gasp), even sex.
The overarching theme of these stories is, of course, the often conflicting pulls of religion and sexuality and how these Muslim women struggle to reconcile the two, particularly in the case where their partner is not Muslim. And yet what ties many of these women together is their own personal commitment to Islam.
Whilst some of these stories, such as The Opening, Punch-Drunk Love and Wild Wind, have little to separate them from the average teenage romance novel ("I liked the sharp angle of his cheekbones. I thought to myself, He's cute"), it could ironically be the apparent "normalcy" of these same love stories that may be the biggest shock to non-Muslim readers. Who knew Muslims could flirt?
Aside from these Sweet Valley High relationship stories, there are a few writers who bring much needed depth to the collection, revealing the complex truths around their more unconventional paths to love.
In A Prayer Answered, Tolu Adiba writes of the inner turmoil she experiences as a practising Muslim who also happens to be gay, and the love she finds with another niqab-wearing Muslim woman, describing their relationship as "Two orthodox girls with an unorthodox love."
Three, written by African-American convert Asiila Imaani, tells of her journey as a divorced single mother searching for a Muslim husband through various Muslim matrimonial services and eventually finding love and support in a polygamous marriage from both her husband and her "sister-wife."
In From Shalom to Salaam, S.E. Levine shares her emotional and spiritual roller-coaster ride as she converts from Judaism to Islam and searches desperately for a husband, managing to find both peace and love after a series of failed marriages and a near breakdown.
With 24 different writers, it seems that Mattu and Maznavi were determined to convey a sense of the diversity of Muslim women in America, vis--vis their culture, experience, age, religiosity and sensibilities.
The flip-side however, is that with so many voices writing on same subject matter, some stories begin to run into one another and the reader may hit a wall of monotony midway through the book. Thankfully, each story is short enough that one is able to plough through, though it is probable that the collection could have been stronger with fewer writers.
When the Western media is so adept at portraying Muslim women in a negative context, the voices of Muslim women expressing themselves in such honest and creative ways should be applauded. Love, InshAllah shows that Muslim women too can love, crack a joke and know their own minds. Not much of a revelation if you already happen to be a Muslim woman, but always a helpful reminder to everyone else.
Winnipeg Muslim Nadia Kidwai was born and raised in the U.K. and is highly content with her own love life.